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GOP seeks to toss Democratic Wisconsin election lawsuit

March 20, 2020 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican state lawmakers in Wisconsin asked a federal judge on Friday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Democrats that seeks to loosen the state’s election laws for the upcoming April 7 presidential primary to deal with problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The state and national Democratic parties filed the lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Wednesday. On Friday, the state and national Republican parties told the court they wanted to intervene as well, further highlighting the high stakes of the lawsuit in battleground Wisconsin.

Democrats want the court to order a number of changes, including a suspension of requirements that absentee ballot applications include a photo ID and that new registrants present copies of documents that prove their residency. They also want clerks to be allowed to count ballots received within 10 days after the election. The current deadline for receipt is 8 p.m. on election night.

Misha Tseytlin, attorney for Republican state lawmakers who are trying to intervene in the lawsuit, argued Friday that the federal courts should not get involved and instead dismiss the complaint.

“The fast-moving, complex nature of the response that all states — including Wisconsin — are undertaking to balance the present public health crisis with the orderly functioning of the democratic process presents a uniquely appropriate circumstance for (the court not to intervene),” Tseytlin wrote.

“It would set a poor precedent, to put it mildly, if each of these decisions — in each state — is to be second-guessed in federal court,” Tseytlin wrote. “The far better approach is to permit each state to sort these difficult issues out for itself, with any appropriate review occurring in state courts.”

Attorneys for the Democrats countered in a filing Friday that if the court doesn’t take swift action on behalf of Wisconsin voters, “no one else will.”

“As a result, Wisconsinites will be faced with the unconscionable choice of having to risk their safety or lose their right to vote,” the Democrats’ filing argued. “And they will face this choice for no good reason.”

In addition to the presidential primary, the April 7 election also includes a statewide race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court and hundreds of local elections for mayor, city council and school boards.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald both reiterated Friday that they want the election to proceed as scheduled. Evers has urged voters to cast ballots absentee, and requests have already set a record for a Wisconsin spring election.

“We understand these are challenging times, but currently we have no plans to change the rules while voting is already underway,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “It seems like leadership from both parties recognizes that April 7th should be Election Day.”

Attorneys for Democrats who brought the lawsuit argue that because of limitations put in place to deal with the pandemic, voters have been forced to stay at home making it more difficult for them to access needed documents to register to vote. They also argued that in-person voting and registration would fly in the face of Evers’ orders not to gather in groups larger than 10 at a time.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission, the defendant in the case, also opposes the lawsuit.

It was unclear when the judge was going to rule.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP